What is the best metropolitan area for classic restaurants?
Le Continental claims it’s Los Angeles, hands down! My list of classic and historic restaurants (that are at least 30 years old) in the greater L.A. area (including Orange County), which I have compiled from various sources over the years including the defunct LA Time Machines web site and more recently Nikki Kruezer’s excellent Offbeat LA list, comes to a total of 276 classic restaurants!
NOTE: With a few exceptions I have left out restaurants that have been relocated recently (one exception is Lawry’s Prime Rib, which relocated a few years ago into a new building and is still definitely a classic) but counted restaurants that relocated in the classic era (pre-1985). Bars (that aren’t also restaurants) were not counted and some multiple location chains (like Tommy’s and The Hat, which still have some original locations left) were counted only once. Included are hot dog and hamburger stands, delis, coffee shops, and casual and fine dining restaurants.
Los Angeles has not been covered very extensively on Le Continental to date. One reason for this is that it seems to me that most of the classics in LA remain very popular and are pretty well known already. But lately with skyrocketing rents and rising property values in California many popular classic restaurants are closing, either because they can’t stay in business facing increased rents or they sell their business while they can get big money from developers. Now I feel a stronger sense of urgency to let people know about my favorite old restaurants so they can visit them before they’re gone and to hopefully increase the restaurants’ business.
In the San Gabriel Valley there is a chain of restaurants called Clearman’s, which includes the following restaurants:
- Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein, Pico Rivera (1946)
- Clearman’s Northwoods Inn, San Gabriel (1966)
- Clearman’s Northwoods Inn, Covina (1967)
- Clearman’s Northwoods Inn, La Mirada (1985)
- Clearman’s Galley, San Gabriel (1968, demolished in 2007 and rebuilt in 2008)
My experience with Clearman’s started about 15 years ago, when I ate at the original Galley and the Northwoods Inn in San Gabriel, and strolled though the vintage 1950s shopping center behind the Galley (which was later demolished for a new shopping center). Later I visited the Steak ‘n Stein and Northwoods Inn in Covina. Last weekend I returned to the Steak ‘n Stein with friends.
Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein – classic Los Angeles steakhouse
John Clearman opened his first restaurant, the Steak ‘n Stein, in 1946 in a California-Mediterranean style. Originally the interior was a little plainer than it is now, as can be seen in the following historic photos. The fireplace lounge called the Circle Room was the most elaborate room with its round rock fire pit with copper hood, rustic furniture, brass lamps and wallpaper.
Sometime later many Victorian style decorations were added, such as Tiffany lamps and oil paintings, and the bar was rebuilt with a thick wood top with wooden branches holding up a shingled roof.
Recently the bar was changed to a granite top and the wonderful wood roof supports were removed. Just why I can’t understand. Le Continental is not a fan of granite bar and counter tops. They don’t fit with vintage decor and they feel cold. But I’m glad they kept the bar stools and roof the same.
After entering the front door you pass through the small lobby into the Circle Room to check in at the hostess desk.
While waiting for your table enjoy a drink and some complementary peanuts served in a small carafe in the fireplace lounge (unlike the peanuts served at the Northwoods Inn here they’re serve pre-shelled). In the winter a fire is lit while in the warmer months the pit becomes a fountain! Much of the Steak ‘n Stein reminds me of the Magic Lamp, also a John Clearman restaurant at one time, especially the fire pit (the Magic Lamp has a similar one).
There are multiple dining rooms at the Steak ‘n Stein. Here is my favorite one, complete with nude oil painting and fantastic Victorian chandelier!
Below is the small dining room closest to the front door, which to my disappointment had a large TV mounted on the wall (turned off when I was there). I love the stained glass windows in this room! A TV turned on would ruin the atmosphere. (TVs don’t belong in dining rooms, ever. I don’t even like them in bars, but I really don’t see the point of having a TV on in a place where people are dining. The atmosphere in the main front dining room at the Northwoods Inn in San Gabriel has been ruined with some huge TVs.)
The menus are mounted on large wood hinged boards that are placed in the center of each table. How about the food? They specialize in steaks of course, which come in six cuts, from the 9 ounce “special steak” (top sirloin?) up to a 34 ounce bone-in tomahawk rib eye. The steaks tasted like they may have been from aged beef, but they don’t state that on the menu, and are broiled over an open charcoal fire.
They also have prime rib on weekends, many seafood entrees, surf & turf combinations, and chicken, all broiled over charcoal. Entrees come with a lot of food so the prices are pretty reasonable for a white tablecloth, fine dining experience (the Steak ‘n Stein is fancier than the casual Clearman’s Northwoods Inns). Dinners come with an iceberg lettuce salad with a side of red cabbage and a trio of unique homemade dressings, their famous (and delicious) cheese bread (ubiquitous in restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley), a giant baked potato with a tray of toppings including cheese sauce, and onion rings. If you want vegetables you will have to order a side. This is a meat & potatoes place.
A wonderful feature at the Steak ‘n Stein is the tableside plating. The waiter comes to your table with the steaks on a metal grill a la flambé. He or she loads each plate with a huge baked potato and opens it up, piles on the onion rings and plates the steak to serve to the diners. The service was excellent on a busy Saturday night.
For more information on John Clearman check out Nikki Kruezer’s article on the LA Weekly web site. Thanks to Mr. Clearman’s vision and the popularity of the Clearman’s chain we still have several classic dining experiences in the San Gabriel Valley to choose from. But Clearman’s, please stop putting in TV’s in your dining rooms!
Clearman’s Steak ‘n Stein
9545 E Whittier Boulevard, Pico Rivera, CA 90660
Open Mon-Thu 11:30am – 9:00pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am – 10:00pm, Sun 10:00am – 9:00pm